Monday, April 17, 2017

The Robots Are Coming

Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow, is about what comes next for humanity. He speculates that in 300 years, Homo sapiens will not be the dominate life form on Earth. The more likely possibility is that we will use bioengineering and machine learning and artificial intelligence either to upgrade ourselves into a totally different kind of being or to create a totally different kind of being that will take over.

If you think about medicine, today you have millions of human doctors and very often you have miscommunication between different doctors, but if you switch to Artificial Intelligence (AI) doctors, you don't really have millions of different doctors. You have a single medical network that monitors the health of everybody in the world. If right now, an AI doctor in Timbuktu discovers a new disease or a new treatment, this information is immediately available to my personal AI doctor on my smartphone. We are likely to see an immense advance in the computer's ability to read and understand human emotions better than humans can do it. If you go to the doctor, you want to have this warm feeling of a human being interacting with you. The way the doctor does it is by reading your facial expressions and your tone of voice and, of course, the contents of your words. These are the three ways in which a human doctor analyzes your emotional state and knows whether you're fearful or bored or angry or whatever.

Now, we are not yet there, but we are very close to the point when a computer will be able to recognize these biological patterns better than a human being. Emotions are not some mystical phenomena that only humans can read. In addition, the computer will be able to read signals coming from your body, which no human doctor can do. You can have biometric sensors on or inside your body and the computer will be able to diagnose your exact emotional state much better than any human being. Even in that, AI will have an advantage.

Some of the biggest advantages of AI are in the field of cooperation, not in intelligence. Intelligence is not consciousness. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Consciousness is the ability to feel things. In humans and other animals, the two indeed go together. The way mammals solve problems is by feeling things. Our emotions and sensations are really an integral part of the way we solve problems in our lives. However, in the case of computers, we don't see the two going together. We may find ourselves in a world with non-conscious super intelligence. The big question is not whether the humans will fall in love with the robots or whether the robots will try to kill the humans. The big question is how does a world of non-conscious super intelligence look?  In order to replace most humans, the AI won't have to do very spectacular things. Most of the things the political and economic system needs from human beings are actually quite simple. What we are talking about in the 21st century is the possibility that most humans will lose their economic and political value. They will become a kind of massive useless class — useless not from the viewpoint of their mother or of their children, useless from the viewpoint of the economic and military and political system. Once this happens, the system also loses the incentive to invest in human beings. The real problem in the 21st century is that the low-skilled jobs will disappear and we'll have a very big problem retraining people for high-skilled jobs. 

As the rise in automation at work could lead to a large increase in unemployment, some countries and cities are experimenting with universal basic income (UBI). This replacement for in-work and unemployment benefits grants all citizens a minimum income, regardless of their work status. If you don't have a job any more and, say, the government provides you with UBI or something, the big problem is how do you find meaning in life? What do you do all day? This idea of humans finding meaning in virtual reality games is actually not a new idea. It's a very old idea. We have been finding meaning in virtual reality games for thousands of years. We've just called it religion until now. We'll have the technology to actually create heavens and hells, not in our minds but using bits and using direct brain-computer interfaces.

Another article that cropped up explained a new American study has found that, on average, a single industrial robot makes six people unemployed. The report, Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets, from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that between 1990-2007, the use of robots in industries led to the average loss of 6.2 jobs. The report also found that wages in the companies with used robots also fell by between 0.25% and 0.50% per 1,000 employees whenever a robot was added to the workforce. The report's writers, economists Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, said that automation could lead to a 3.3 million to 6.1 million job losses in the US by 2025.

The problem of robots taking jobs is not limited the US. In March, the accountancy consultancy PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC) said that up to 30% of jobs in the UK economy could be lost by automation in the next 15 years. But it said that these losses would be offset by job gains in other sectors. PWC's study found that up to 38% of jobs in the US and 35% in Germany could also be lost, but Japan only faced a 21% fall.

Nor is the loss of jobs is not limited to "blue collar" manual labour sectors. The financial giant BlackRock recently announced that it plans to lay off 13% of its financial portfolio managers, as it transfers control over investments to AI systems that use algorithms.
 Sunil Johal, a public policy expert from the Moffat Centre, said: "We are starting to see in fields like medicine, law and investment banking dramatic increases in the ability of computers to think as well or better than humans. And that's really the game changer here. Because that's something that we have never seen before."


Percentage of jobs at risk of automation by sector
Water, sewage and waste management – 62.6%
Transportation and storage – 56.4%
Manufacturing – 46.4%
Wholesale and retail trade – 44.0%
Administrative and support services – 37.4%
Financial and insurance – 32.2%

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